Procedural control of the bureaucracy, peer review, and epistemic drift

Stuart Shapiro, David Guston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Regulatory peer review-in which independent scientists comment on the technical under-pinnings of proposed regulations-is a recently pursued form of political control of the bureaucracy. This article situates regulatory peer review in the context of both the history of technical advice to government and the principal-agent perspective often used to explain the presence of administrative procedures. Much of the academic discussion of attempts to influence bureaucratic decision making has utilized principal-agent theory. We introduce two novel concepts to accommodate regulatory peer review into the principal-agent framework. The first is "technocracy" where the preferences of technical experts displace public preferences. The second is "epistemic drift," a change in embodied knowledge that contributes to departures from the policy intentions of an enacting coalition of policy makers. In addition to introducing these concepts, we argue that regulatory peer review is more complex than other administrative procedures and that its efficacy critically depends on the details of its implementation. We hypothesize that regulatory peer review will cause nongovernmental participants in regulatory conflicts to devote more effort to creating research and other epistemic resources. But we also hypothesize that, just as courts have become more politicized with their role in regulatory policy, peer review and regulatory science will become increasingly politicized as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)535-551
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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